Frederic Chiu to Debut CofC’s New Piano

Friday, January 28, 2011

Frederic Chiu

THE INTERNATIONAL Piano Series of the College of Charleston is moving to Memminger while the Sottile Theatre gets a makeover. And a double treat awaits us at the first performance where acclaimed pianist Frederic Chiu will debut Yamaha’s much heralded CFX full concert grand piano.

This piano has been played in several other concerts in the country, but the College of Charleston is the first institution to receive one, thanks to the gift of an anonymous private donor.

Tuesday • February 8
8 PMMemminger Auditorium, 56 Beaufain Street, (843) 953-6575
Tickets $20 at the door · under 18 and CofC students free

About the Pianist

Frederic Chiu is an American pianist who was born to a Chinese immigrant family and who attended Indiana University where he pursued a double major in piano performance and computer science. His teacher there was Karen Shaw, known for her powerful virtuosic interpretations. While attending Indiana, Frederic frequently participated in the violin class of the late teacher Josef Gingold as an accompanist where one of his acquaintances was Joshua Bell, whom Chiu frequently accompanies. After Indiana, he studied at the Juilliard School with Shaw’s teacher, Abbey Simon

In 1993, already considered one of the quickest-rising young pianists, Frederic entered the Van Cliburn competition. His elimination before the final round resulted in a storm of protest. As a result, he received more publicity than the winner; The New York Times began referring to him as a “maverick pianist.” Since then, he has received more positive recognition as the recipient of the Petscheck Award of the Juilliard School, the American Pianists Association Fellowship, and the 1996 Avery Fisher Career Grant.

About the Piano

Yamaha CFX Grand Piano

The 9’ CFX full concert grand, which replaces Yamaha’s acclaimed CFIIIS concert grand piano, was launched in January 2010. In addition to drawing on its 108-year heritage of manufacturing the world’s finest pianos, the instrument represents 19 years of research and development conducted by Yamaha craftsmen, designers, and engineers to create this extraordinary handcrafted piano. The process culminated with a series of top-secret, in-depth evaluation sessions conducted in New York, Paris, and Tokyo with top artists and Yamaha artist services over the last few years. The 9’ CFX full concert grand piano is truly the new standard for musical excellence. (from Bill Jones Music)

The nine foot CFX is a full sized concert grand piano characterized by a wide palette of tonal colors and the ability to create the most subtle expressive nuances. It can “sing” phrases with a depth of expressiveness rarely heard. It has a powerful bass and all registers can project over the sound of a symphony orchestra, even in very large halls. (from Yamaha)

When Fredric was asked in a recent interview about playing this new piano, he replied: “Normally at a certain point you’re fighting the limitations of the piano, which is helpful. You’re meeting resistance, which you have to work against. Here there are no limitations. You’re afraid that if you’re not careful, you can go into free-fall.” (from the NY Daily News)

Program Notes by Lindsay Koob

Before Frédéric Chopin came along, piano Etudes (or studies) were merely finger-exercises that focused strictly on the instrument’s technical problems—with few, if any, qualities that made them musically attractive to listeners. But Chopin—in a remarkable display of creative genius—made real music of his etudes: impressing the listener not only as spectacular showpieces, but as richly poetic musical utterances as well that were more than suitable for the concert stage. The Etudes are organized into two sets (Op. 10 and Op. 25) of twelve pieces each. Encompassing both sets, Mr. Chiu has chosen six of the finest examples.

the soundboard

The Op. 25, No. 1 is popularly known as the “Aeolian Harp” etude, for its rich swirls of harp-like textures beneath a sweetly singing melody line. The Op. 10, No. 10 gives the right hand a stiff workout, with its broken-chord rotations over the left hand’s leaps and arpeggios. The treacherous, widely spaced broken chords of Op. 10, No. 11 make it a sure test of finger accuracy. We then go to the races with Op. 10, No. 4: a formidable exercise of high-speed articulation and finger-independence for both hands. Stark contrast comes with Op. 10, No. 3, nicknamed the “Tristesse:” a lovely and mostly gentle study in lyrical line-projection over subtle inner voices, all from the same hand. The famous “Revolutionary” etude, Op. 10, No. 12, with its crashing chords over flying left-hand runs and arpeggios, came to symbolize Chopin’s ardent hopes for the liberation of his oppressed Polish homeland.

French impressionism gets its due with two shimmering masterpieces. The first of Claude Debussy’s three pieces of Images, Book II is “Bells Heard Through the Leaves:” a dreamy evocation of distant chimes heard as if filtered through rustling leaves on a languorous autumn day. It features fascinating contrasts between clear and clouded sonorities while offering sophisticated canonic structure in whole-tones. One of our most fascinating pianistic evocations of the sea comes courtesy of Maurice Ravel: “A Boat on the Ocean,” from the five pieces of Miroirs.  A floating motif over gently swirling arpeggios in the left hand immediately reveals the title image, before growing in volume and intensity to evoke rolling swells and stormier episodes.

We have Mr. Chiu to thank for these vivid piano transcriptions of one of Sergei Prokofiev’s most popular orchestral works: the five-movement Lt. Kije Suite. Condensed from his 1933 score to the like-titled film, the suite satirically depicts the Russian Czar falling for a cover-up story about an officer in his army who does not exist. The three excerpts heard here include the fictitious soldier’s love-story (the “Romance” and “Kije’s Wedding”) plus the sardonic “Troika,” or sleigh ride. By contrast, the very popular Toccata, Op. 11 is far more typical of the crashing power, headlong motoric drive and near-violent effect that suffuse so much of Prokofiev’s piano output. But this piece, with its tight organization and sophisticated harmonics, transcends by far its reputation (to some) as mere, mindless piano-banging.

Franz Liszt crafted the bulk of his many dozens of piano transcriptions (of art-songs, opera themes and symphonic works) for his own use, often transforming them into flashy showpieces that only he could play. But quite a few of them—from composers (like Wagner) that he particularly revered—remained quite faithful to the original compositional design and intent. This holds true for his transcriptions of all nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven. First written in 1838 (revised in the 1860’s), Liszt’s seldom-heard treatment of the evergreen Symphony No. 5 thus remains unsullied by the glittering pyrotechnics and flights of fantasy that we usually expect from his transcriptions, while preserving the score’s original’s orchestral color and effect. And it still takes a master pianist to pull it off. Get ready to hear a familiar old warhorse in an entirely refreshing new way.

See the entire 2010-2011 International Piano Series schedule

The International Piano Series, now in its twenty-first year, is directed by CofC Artist-in-Residence, Enrique Graf.

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